Monday, January 30, 2006

Hello Bakh Shish?

We arrived at a picturesque village near the Valley of the Kings near Luxor ostensibly to be taken to an alibaster factory and get some pictures of local life. Soon after we arrived, a large part of the tour went in to the factory/gift shop while the rest of the group broke into smaller clusters of 4 or 5 to go shoot the village. The light was good and the village was amazing. The buildings were either exposed mud and straw brick shacks or larger buildings painted yellow, beige or blue and the occasional accent window was a bright blue, green, red or some combination thereof. Colorful laundry was hung out between some of the houses adding yet more contrast to the surrounding desert and rocky hills.

As we started up one of the hills in the village, a couple of children came up to us saying "Hello bakh shish? Hello bakh shish?" Bakh shish is the word for tip and they were asking for a bit of money or whatever we had. I started with my standard "No thanks" and kept shooting but soon that crowd of children grew to 10 and then 15 -- swarming around our group like the flocks of little seagulls in Finding Nemo and going from person to person with increasingly urgent calls of "Hello bakh shish?" "Mine? Mine?" Eventually, someone in one of the groups would give in and give a kid something. Someone brought some balloons and started handing them out. A couple of people had colorful pencils for situations like this but these gifts only served as chum in the water as the seagulls turned into sharks at the first sight of bakh shish. They would surround anyone who had anything to give and grow more and more plentiful yelling "Hello bakh shish!!" until that person's supply was exhausted or they had been eaten. I didn't see anyone actually eaten but I'm pretty sure it happened at least once.

I tried the bakh shish giving just once. There were two kids standing next to me and I gave each of them a shiny penny. Suddenly there was a third and I gave her one too. Then a fourth out of nowhere. Running low on pennies, I needed a way out. Some of us came up with clever ruses to get away from the swarms. One particularly popular one was to point at other people in other groups and say "bakh shish! They have bakh shish!" and the swarm would run towards that person or at least be confused enough looking for them that you could make your escape. One of my favorites was to talk to them in nonsensical responses to their questions.

Bakh shisher: "Hello bakh shish?"
Me: "No, my name isn't bakh shish"
Bakh shisher: "One dollar?"
Me: "You are not a cat"
Bakh shisher: "One dollar?"
Me: "For me? OK - I'll take a dollar"
Bakh shisher: "Hello bakh shish?"
Me: "Nope, go fish. Do you have any threes?"

We kept wandering around the village shooting pictures of the buildings, people and swarms for about 45 minutes before we headed back to the bus. When we got there, the machine gun toting security folks who follow us around had shown up and the children went running back home. A few who tried to corner someone returning to the bus were sent running by the security folks yelling something at them.

Bakh Shishers attack!

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